Welcome to my tour stop! I am happy to share an excerpt from the beginning of the book that kicks off the plot. I am also debuting a new structure to my reviews, so I’d love to hear what you think! To see what’s going on at the rest of the tour stops, visit the tour schedule.
Wanda Jean Milton discovers her husband, local exterminator Hilton Milton, dead on her new shag carpet with an Old Hickory carving knife sticking out of his chest. Beside herself over how she’ll remove the stain, and grief-stricken over Hilton’s demise, Wanda Jean finds herself the prime suspect in the case. But she is also a member of “the” local Study Club, a bastion of independent Texas feminism 1960s style. Club President Clara Wyler has no intention of allowing a member to be a murder suspect during her administration. Aided by her younger sister and County Clerk, Mae Ella Gormley; Sugar Watson, the proprietress of Sugar’s Style and Spray; and Wilma Schneider, Army MASH veteran and local RN, the Club women set out to clear Wanda Jean’s name — never guessing the local dirt they’ll uncover in the process.
***** Excerpt *****
Sugar Watson took a long drag on her Camel and critically appraised the height of Clara Wyler’s black bouffant. “You want me to go a little higher, honey?” she asked, punctuating the question with a well-developed smoker’s cough. “If I rat it up real good, I can get you another 2 or 3 inches on top.”
Clara squinted at herself in the mirror. “I think I’m good, Sugar,” she said. “What with Wanda Jean finding Hilton dead in the living room, I don’t want to look insincere at Study Club.”
Sugar leaned in conspiratorially. “I know we don’t ever throw anybody out of the Study Club, but my Lord, what in the world are we gonna do if she really did kill him?”
Clara glanced around to confirm that all the other women in Sugar’s Style and Spray were safely tucked under the dryers. “Well, she called me herself to assure me that she didn’t do it,” Clara said. “She owned up to wanting to, but she didn’t do it.”
“Well, hell,” Sugar said, “we’ve all thought about killing our husbands. That’s just part of being married. But nobody’s ever walked in my house and found Slim laying there with an Old Hickory carving knife sticking out of his chest. What did Wanda Jean say about finding him?”
“She told me the first thing she thought about was how hard it was gonna be to get the blood out of that new shag carpet they put in last month,” Clara said. “You know they went with the deep pile.”
“I know,” Sugar said. “I looked at it too when T.J. put the ad in the paper, but my vacuum cleaner just won’t suck up dirt good enough for that. Is it a light carpet?”
“I didn’t think to ask her,” Clara said, unclipping the plastic cape around her neck and handing it to Sugar. “Anyway, she said she just stood there thinking about how you can’t get blood out of shag carpet. Then it dawned on her maybe she ought to check him for a pulse.”
“I hope it wasn’t a light carpet,” Sugar said, rearranging cans of Aqua Net on the counter. “Those boys from the ambulance service never think to wipe their feet before they go in to get a body. You should have seen the mess they made when Blake Trinkle died. They just ruined Maybelline’s carpet. She spent as much getting it cleaned as she did on the funeral.”
“That’s so inconsiderate,” Clara agreed. “People just don’t think. Now you’re not gonna be late this afternoon, are you?”
“Of course not,” Sugar said. “Flowers knows not to book me on the third Thursday at three. Study Club day is sacred.”
“Good, I have to go by the bakery and . . . ”
The look on Sugar’s face stopped Clara mid-sentence. “Good Lord, Sugar,” she said. “You look like you swallowed one of your Camels.”
“I think we’re gonna be one short for Club,” Sugar croaked. “Look.”
Clara glanced out the front window in time to see Sheriff Lester Harper helping a handcuffed Wanda Jean Milton out of the backseat of his car. “What is that man thinking!” she exclaimed. “Parading her in front of God and everybody on the courthouse square!”
This book is a spin-off series of The Lockwood Legacy. It features who I called the “old ladies” in Alice’s Portrait. Even though The Lockwood Legacy was published first, this first installment in the Study Club actually happens at least four decades before the Lockwood girls return to their little Texas town.
The ladies – backbones of society, I suppose you could say – have formed a Study Club. It’s 1968. They really don’t study much except town events, as far as I could tell, but it sure does come in handy when one of their own is labeled a murderer.
These are some tough Texas gals, and they won’t stand for the arrest of Wanda Jean. Since the local law enforcement seems very lax in duties, the women take the investigation into their own hands and discover things about Hilton Milton’s life – and those he was involved with – that are getting really fishy.
Societal proprieties sometimes go by the wayside when you’re investigating a small town murder! More than one mystery is solved in this first installment of A Study Club Mystery series.
There was more than one women’s study club in town. But the Study Club gained its prominence based on the sheer reputation of the women who were its members and officers.
The Study Club: There are other members, but these are the “driving force” to the selective group.
- Clara Wyler – a rancher wife of 29; President of the Study Club; known to be strong-headed
- Sugar Watson – owner of the local beauty salon, Sugar’s Style and Spray; in love with Camel cigarettes, Aqua Net and bouffants
- Wilma Schneider – local town nurse; former MASH unit nurse in Korea; only single member of the Club
- Mae Ella Gormley – Clara’s younger sister; County Clerk
Other Key Players:
- Flowers Wilkes – Sugar’s mentor; does nails at the salon; unofficial member of the Club; reads people well
- Wanda Jean Milton – wife of exterminator Hilton Milton; a housewife and Club member; prime suspect in her husband’s murder
- Sheriff Lester Harper – leaves the vast majority of responsibilities to his deputy; can be found fishing every day of the week
- Deputy Hank Howard – the sheriff’s protégé; head of the Hilton murder case; takes an incredible interest in his appearance
- Maybelline Trinkle – sister of Wanda Jean; recently widowed
The book does not lack for humor. These women are hilarious and have no problem getting straight to the point. The relationships between the women are very tight knit and realistic. Each of the main women of the book, and even the secondary characters, are given a little spotlight at some point in the book in which backgrounds and particulars are given to readers.
“Okay, Ida Belle, how about you live it up and get a good red on your nails today?”
Ida Belle’s look of overt disapproval was answer enough. “Right,” Flowers said, “two coats of old lady pink coming up.”
My favorite character was Sugar. I feel like she gets the most face time in the book because so much of it is set in her salon. Sugar knows how to work people to the point of confessions with nowhere to escape. I mean, they’re stuck in a salon chair getting their hair ratted, with a haze of cigarette smoke hanging over them like a black cloud and a trigger-happy Sugar doling out Aqua Net like it’s ambrosia of the gods. Nobody wants to risk setting her hair aflame from Sugar’s dangling Camel cigarette!
At first I thought the book would be set following the events of The Lockwood Legacy series, and that the women would be a bunch of old biddy busybodies. Of course, they are the grapevine of the town, but not quite in the way I thought they’d be.
In a small Texas ranching community where the best price for an Angora goat at the auction ring constituted “big news,” the untimely demise of the local exterminator set tongues wagging. The event was compared to other historic tragedies and seemed to only pale in comparison to “when the Browning girl got killed in that wreck at Christmas time.”
My favorite scenes in the book where the ones when the women of the Club took it upon themselves to individually visit town citizens at the top of their suspect’s list. These women know how to use blackmail efficiently! There are so many town secrets that are revealed that these women keep quiet about. They conduct their business in style with a strong dose of Texan stubbornness. From reading The Lockwood Legacy books I already knew what was coming when Wilma had a private chit chat in the funeral home, but other suspects kept surprising the other Club officers when they did their individual investigations.
“Well, I will just be damned,” Sugar declared. “That man sure had a lot of secret friends.”
“I assume you are speaking of my fellow horticulturist…”
Sugar sat back against the sofa cushions with a shocked expression. “I thought I knew everything that went on in this town,” she said, “and here I am find out there’s this whole…”
As you can tell, nothing is spared from discussion or dissection by the Club women, or in fact any of the characters. Despite being set in the late 1960s, where many issues were still taboo to discuss and were handled within the home, these things are not exempt to be brushed under the carpet. They are revealed within the context of the time period and West Texas location.
Clint never told Clara what to do and he was a good man, but what about women like Lura Belle Taylor? Why were people supposed to look the other way when a sorry son of a bitch was beating on his wife? Because you were supposed to tend to your own business? And she was getting what she deserved for marrying a piece of trash? The last line of thinking really set Clara off. No woman married a man thinking he was gonna hit her.
I think my absolute favorite scene was when Flowers and Wilma go sneaking around under a suspect’s window – knowing another of their suspects will show up and they hope to gather intel about Hilton’s murder – all planned out perfectly so that everyone will be glued to their TVs and the latest episode of Gunsmoke. I could not stop laughing about the women’s interactions, and especially about Wilma’s doggedness over Flowers’ cats. Serious cat lady right there.
After she signed off with Clara, Sugar placed a call to Wilma at Dr. Kitterell’s office. She listened to the whole recitation without comment and then said, “I survived the Korean War and you want me to risk getting shot skulking around people’s back yards?”
“Nobody’s gonna shoot us,” Flowers said into the receiver Sugar held out to her. “If we get caught, we can always just say one of my cats is missing and we’re looking for it.”
“How many cats are you feeding now, Flowers?” Wilma asked.
Flowers scowled at the phone. “Just 32. Why?”
When she hung up, Flowers looked at her suspiciously. “Was Wilma talking bad about my cats?”
“Of course not,” Sugar said, occupying herself with a fresh Camel. “Nobody in their right mind would ever say anything bad about your cats.”
I had no clue who the murderer was, and I (like the Club), thought I knew exactly who it was, along with motive and all that jazz. Unfortunately, Hilton had his fingers in quite a few pies around town. I know that sounds bad, and it seemed bad in the book, until all was revealed by his customers, but that just left more loose ends to go following.
I’m a Texan, so I could easily identify with the women’s grab-the-bull-by-the-horns attitude. They had me laughing continuously, despite the fact that this is a murder mystery, and poor Wanda Jean just lost her husband, as did her sister Maybelline, for that matter. The women seemed more concerned with the bloodstain on her brand new, on-sale shag carpet for the longest.
This is just the first installment in the Study Club Mystery series, and I will definitely be reading more about these crazy women and their small town secrets in the second book, You Can’t Put a Corpse in a Parade. If you are looking for a break in your normal reading selections, or you just need a good laughing fit, I highly recommend!
***** About the Author *****
Juliette Harper is the pen name used by the writing team of Patricia Pauletti and Rana K. Williamson. You Can’t Get Blood Out of Shag Carpet is the first installment of Harper’s debut cozy Study Club Mysteries, an hilariously funny look at the often absurd eccentricities of small town life. The second book, to be released in coming months, is called You Can’t Put a Corpse in a Parade.
The droll series, set in the 1960s, is a light-hearted spinoff of Harper’s Lockwood Legacy a nine-book chronicle of the lives of three sisters who inherit a ranch in Central Texas following their father’s suicide. Three of the novels are currently available: Langston’s Daughters, Baxter’s Draw, and Alice’s Portrait. The fourth book, Mandy’s Father, will appear in Summer 2015.
And don’t miss Harper’s first foray into the world of the supernatural, Descendants of the Rose, Book 1 in the Selby Jensen Paranormal Mystery series. The second Selby Jensen book, Lost in Room 636 is also scheduled for a Summer 2015 release.
Pauletti, an Easterner of Italian descent, is an accomplished musician with an eye for art and design. Williamson, a Texan, worked as a journalist and university history instructor before becoming a full-time freelance writer in 2002.
***** Giveaway *****
One (1) winner gets a $50 Amazon Gift Card (INT), one (1) winner gets Langston’s Daughters, Baxter’s Draw and Alice’s Portrait in paperback (US) and one (1) winner gets Descendants of the Rose in paperback (US).
The giveaway ends June 29th.